The Science of Sleep

Mar 15, 2022

Dr. Darren Bowles

The Science of Sleep

If you have made it this far in your life without sleep - we need to ask you a few questions.

But sleep is more than just tucking yourself into bed, scrolling your socials for 3 hours and closing your eyes.

Chemical messengers interact with certain parts of your brain, at certain times, to guide you through the stages of your sleep and wake you up in the morning. Sleep Quality is a measure of how restful this sleep has been for you, but what might surprise you is quantity does not equal quality.

Sleep Quality is determined by a combination of the following:

• Timing

Sleep Timing refers to matching your sleep with your natural rhythm

Sleep Latency
How long it takes you to fall asleep once you’re in bed.

Sleep Waking
The amount of times you wake up during the night.

The amount of time you are awake.

Sleep Efficiency
The amount of time you’re actually sleeping.

Sleep Staging
The amount of time spent in each stage.

Sleep Time
The amount of hours/minutes you slept for.

Stages of Sleep

Sleep Quality not only refers to the amount of time you’re asleep vs. awake, but also the amount of time you spend in each stage - but what are these stages?

The stages are categorised into REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep kicks us off on our sleep journey and contains 3 stages:

  • Stage 1 (N1) This is the ‘transition’ stage that gets us from awake to sleep. It is the lightest stage of sleep and it usually lasts 1 - 5 min.

  • Stage 2 (N2) A deeper sleep than Stage 1, where your body temperature drops and your muscles relax. It typically lasts 10 - 25 min, but can get longer as the night goes on and as you loop through sleep cycles.

  • Stage 3 (N3/Deep Sleep) This ‘deep sleep’ is where the body relaxes further and breathing slows. You may also know this stage as the ‘restorative’ sleep stage and it typically lasts 20 - 40 min.

REM sleep typically occurs after the non-REM stages.

Your brain activity picks up to near awake levels of activity and most of the muscles in the body enter a paralysis like state. Eye muscles, however, do not enter this state and move rapidly (hence the name) despite remaining closed. REM sleep is associated with dreaming, learning and forming memories. During the first cycle of sleep, the REM stage can last 15 mins, but towards the last cycles, it can last for an hour.

What a good night’s sleep means for you !

Nothing makes us appreciate a good night’s sleep more than when we have a bad night’s sleep!

After a poor night sleep, your attention will be off, your normal thinking is off and your mood is undoubtedly off. This is the crux of most scientific research regarding sleep.

If you disrupt someones sleep or even keep them awake, you will notice changes in their motor skills, emotional state and cognitive functions.

Priming your body during the day with exercise and adequate light exposure, while avoiding late night caffeine and excess alcohol, will optimise your sleep quality. This means getting the right amount of time in each of the Sleep Stages, getting to sleep faster and staying asleep for longer.

A good nights sleep will improve your memory, help you regulate emotions and perform to the best of your ability.

Bottom Line

A good night sleep is more than just spending the time in bed. Sleep divides itself into different stages and each stage has its own purpose.

Improving your sleep should be based on much more than making sure you get to bed early and sleep for as long as possible.